Every parent knows that other parents have the best tips and resources. You quickly learn to rely on your network of like-minded parents for restaurant, playground and parenting tips. But when you learn that your eldest has Autism, that carefully groomed network shatters and you’re left wondering where to turn.

Luckily for my family, Minnesota AuSM (The Autism Society of Minnesota) which offers families living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) a vibrant network of families and professionals active in the local autism community.

My son was barely two when he was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified), which is on the autism spectrum. We felt lost, isolated and confused. Usually competent and confident people, my husband and I were baffled by conflicting information we received from online searches and uncertain if the school services we were receiving were enough to address our son’s needs.

Through a pamphlet provided by the schools, we learned about AuSM’s Discovery Series, which educates parents of children with a recent diagnosis of ASD on a wide range of topics. This series met over four weeks and provided us with a Resource Directory complete with parents’ recommendations on local services. I still reference that binder three years later, whether I’m looking for a new dentist, photographer, developmental pediatrician, or starting down yet another treatment path.

After the Discovery Series experience, I became active with AuSM and experienced other services they provide. Through workshops and trainings by the nation’s top researchers and practitioners in the field, I know that the private and district staff that work with my son are receiving the best information available. I am confident in the content and quality of the education AuSM provides to professionals and parents in our community.

But membership in AuSM doesn’t stop at education and services. For me, it has provided a way to welcome autism into our life. As we left behind our previous normal life, we felt a loss so great; we grieved constantly. AuSM and its community partners have become our new support system.

Without AuSM’s ready-made network, we would have struggled much more – not knowing all that we needed to know to parent our extraordinary son. Thanks to AuSM, we now have a community that celebrates with us, grieves with us and learns with us. They are true partners in our remarkable journey.

By Shannon Andreson

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.